It was listening to late-night radio that got me into music

 I remember hearing DJs like Steve Lamacq, Jo Whiley and John Peel, and just thinking: "Wow – this is brilliant." It was around the time of all the great Welsh bands breaking through in the mid-90s. We had Catatonia, Stereophonics, Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals, Feeder and other big acts right on our doorstep.

Huw Stephens portrait, in front of a blurred purple lit background
Huw Stephens

It was all so exciting

I was 15 and had a show on Rookwood Sound, a hospital radio station in Cardiff, and played records by all those bands. At the same time, I started a Welsh-language fanzine called Caws Heb Dost (Cheese Without Toast). Don’t ask me why I called it that!

It felt like I was in the right place at the right time

I’d always had an interest in local music, and I think that would have turned out the same if I’d grown up anywhere else. But I was lucky enough to be born in a country that has such a rich creative culture and so much talent. It’s the best job in the world to be able to immerse myself in it and document it.

Huw Stephens holding beanie hat in Cardiff's Victorian Arcades
Huw Stephens sat with friends outside Hard Lines Coffee
Huw Stephens drinking coffee from a white mug in Cardiff Castle grounds
Huw Stephens, Cardiff

I love gigging in Cardiff

I grew up at Clwb Ifor Bach – the famous Welsh-language venue on Womanby Street. It was my second home when I was 18 and started going to regular gigs in the city. In those early years I saw the likes of Coldplay and The Strokes. More recently, there have been some amazing Clwb nights with Stella Donnelly and Boy Azooga.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen some incredible gigs at big Cardiff venues like the Motorpoint Arena and St David’s Hall. Every music venue I walk past resonates with memories. At St David’s Hall I saw The Bootleg Beatles, Elvis Costello and Gorky’s. I walk past Motorpoint and remember it’s where I caught Blur, Oasis and The Prodigy – so many great nights.

Huw Stephens looking down into camera at Cardiff Castle
Huw Stephens, Cardiff Castle

Best gig I’ve ever seen in Cardiff

 I'd have to say the Welsh band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, supported by Yo La Tengo at St David’s Hall in 2004. It was the last time I ever saw Gorky's play. They split up soon afterwards.

Sŵn Festival

We set up Sŵn Festival – the name means 'sound' – in 2007. We felt that Cardiff needed it and Wales needed it. We wanted to reflect the warm, supportive music scene in the city, and keep it buzzing. But the festival wasn’t just intended as a big celebration of what’s going on in Wales. From the start, we also wanted to invite international artists to play.

Female artist performing onstage at SWN Music Festival 2016
Front row audience at Swn music festival
Sŵn Festival

Performances take place at multiple venues throughout the city

You can wander between gigs and come across things you’d never encountered before. It’s a formula that really caught people’s imagination, turning Sŵn into one of the best-loved music festivals in Wales. We’re thrilled that it’s now being run by Clwb Ifor Bach – that brings things full circle for me. I’m sure that they’ll take good care of the festival and help it grow even bigger in the future.

Sŵn provides a focus for the live music, and it’s a great way to draw people in to the scene from outside Wales. It’s also a reminder that we shouldn’t take Cardiff’s vibrant live music scene for granted, because we can plainly see what we’d risk losing if we don’t support our venues.

Sŵn provides a focus for the live music, and it’s a great way to draw people in to the scene from outside Wales."

Welsh Music Prize 

We launched the Welsh Music Prize in 2011 as a platform to celebrate the amazing albums being made here by Welsh artists. We were hearing so many great recordings in both English and Welsh all the time. It’s turned into another way of bringing everyone together and getting them talking about the best new Welsh music.

When I’m doing my job, I come across so much goodwill towards the Welsh music scene – and with events like the Welsh Music Prize and Sŵn, we can translate all that positivity into something unique.

Huw Stephens taking a selfie in front of Cardiff cityscape from the castle
Huw Stephens, cityscape selfie

Related stories